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Newport, Washington County agree on Red Rock redevelopment

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The city of Newport and Washington County housing officials have finalized an agreement to have the county lead the way on a sweeping redevelopment plan to transform an industrial area of the city into a bustling, transit-oriented, new-look neighborhood.

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The Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority will be the driving force behind attracting developers to remake roughly 40 acres of northwest Newport near the junction of Interstate 494 and U.S. Highway 61 -- now largely a bleak industrial zone -- into a high-density, mixed-use commercial and residential area that officials say will serve as a gateway to the city and county.

The Newport City Council approved a joint powers agreement and the re-zoning plan at a June 21 meeting.

"This is going to be the first impression [of Newport]," said council member Tracy Rahm. "That's it. So, it's got to look good."

Newport's tiny Economic Development Authority does not have the clout -- or funds -- to take charge of what is likely the largest redevelopment effort in the city's more than 150-year history, officials have said.

City leaders say they believe the project, known as the Red Rock Gateway Redevelopment, could add hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue to Newport's coffers each year -- a big boost to a city with an annual budget of less than $3 million.

The redevelopment effort comes with challenges, however, namely, says Barb Dacy, executive director of the HRA, the difficulty and expense of buying and stitching together roughly 70 different parcels of land into a cohesive redevelopment zone. Dacy said the Authority expects land acquisition costs to top $10 million, in addition to nearly $3.5 million in infrastructure improvements that are needed around commuter bus station set to open next year.

"But there's a lot of opportunities that's very exciting," Dacy said, including the site's location near a busy interstate highway and its proximity to the proposed Red Rock Corridor commuter rail line that would run between St. Paul and Hastings.

Washington County has already purchased the 11.6-acre former Knox Lumber property on Maxwell Avenue where it will construct a 1,200-square-foot, climate-controlled building with 200 parking spaces for commuters using a St. Paul-bound bus route beginning in 2013. Under the joint powers agreement approved by the city and Housing and Redevelopment Authority Board last week, the county will handle all property acquisition and relocation, market the project to developers and seek grant funding for redevelopment.

"All of this is going to help ameliorate the impacts of the Interstate 494 and Highway 61 projects," Dacy said, referring to the highway construction of the past decade that many officials say hurt the city's business district and slowed redevelopment efforts.

The Red Rock redevelopment area, she said, will "set a new tone" and "create a new gateway into Washington County."

The Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority will be the driving force behind attracting developers to remake roughly 40 acres of northwest Newport near the junction of Interstate 494 and U.S. Highway 61.

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